Tag Archives: gender neutral

Gender Neutral

I’m Diane Grant, a playwright who is happy to be with the LAFPI.

A few years ago, a composer named Bill Elliott, asked me to adapt the classic 1908 children’s book, Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. The book tells the stories of several creatures, Mole, Ratty, Badger, Otter, Toad, and friends, who live by a riverbank in the English countryside. Bill had written some beautiful music for it.

The book is full of rich, gorgeous prose but without a clear dramatic structure. I struggled with the loosely connected stories and found a strong through line by making Mole the protagonist. An underground creature, she leaves her home to visit the world above. Impetuous but shy, she learns about the four seasons, makes friends, and proves an intrepid and imaginative adventurer. I added characters, Wiley the Weasel and his punk cohorts, the Hedgehog family and Wilmer Otter, the not too swift guard in the dungeon, but concentrated on Mole’s story.

Then, Bill decided that he wanted a play about Alastair Grahame, Kenneth Grahame’s son, instead.

So, there I was with a play in the drawer, one of dozens of other Wind in the Willows plays, until I teamed up with director Dorothy Dillingham Blue and composer Michael Reilly to produce it this summer at Theatre Palisades.

What is most exciting about the project is that Dorothy loved my idea of changing the main characters from male to female. So often in youth plays, when characters are called “gender neutral,” girls lower their voices and stomp around. We wanted characters that all the jillions of girls who turn up to audition would want to play and could make their own.

I was encouraged by the recent sale of a first edition of the book, dedicated to the daughter of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who was thought to have been the model for the character of Ratty.

Now our version features Miss Mole, her mentor and soon to be best friend, Miss Ratty, the rather severe widow Badger, and the garrulous gossip, Miss Otter. Isn’t public domain fabulous?

Should Wiley the Weasel be a girl as well? Or even Toad, renowned as the feckless gentleman of Toad Hall?

The audition process would let us know.